Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

The best summer movie ever

By Gene Seymour
updated 9:31 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
The Beatles arrived in the United States 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/the-sixties'>Check out coverage of "The Sixties: The British Invasion,"</a> a look at how the Fab Four's influence persists. Click through the gallery for more images of the Beatles' first American tour. The Beatles arrived in the United States 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. Check out coverage of "The Sixties: The British Invasion," a look at how the Fab Four's influence persists. Click through the gallery for more images of the Beatles' first American tour.
HIDE CAPTION
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
America falls in love with the Beatles
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gene Seymour: Best summer movie? "Hard Day's Night," 50 years ago this weekend
  • It was exhilarating for teens to see anarchy, smarts, daring of Beatles on big screen, he says
  • Film shows in 50 cities this weekend. He first saw it at 11, it sent him over the moon, he says
  • Seymour: His own son reacted same way. You won't find better movie out there this summer

Editor's note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN) -- The best summer movie ever made premiered 50 years ago this weekend. It had no sharks, robots, zombies, superheroes or alien invaders. Nobody met somebody else in cute "rom-com" fashion and no one traveled in time. Though explosive in its way, there were no explosions; indeed, no special effects of any kind. There wasn't even much of a story; at least not the kind with a beginning, middle or end.

So what was it about? Not much, really. Just four guys in suits running, jumping, meandering and goofing around all day from one crowded area to another in search of breathing room, all filmed in stunning black and white.

Gene Seymour
Gene Seymour

"A Hard Day's Night," the 1964 musical comedy that brought the Beatles -- and the global phenomenon they detonated -- to the big screen, marks its half-century with a new DVD-Blu-Ray package from the Criterion Collection, whose digitally restored version (from the original negative) is being theatrically released in more than 50 U.S. cities this weekend.

10 places to relive Beatlemania

Even with all the brighter, bolder, fresher-looking Hollywood product out there over this holiday, I don't think it's a stretch to say that none of them will be a better experience than "A Hard Day's Night," especially if you've never seen it before. But it holds true even if you've already seen it once, twice or too many times to count.

In the end, that's what a great summer movie is supposed to do: Make you want to go back on the ride again to experience the same thrills and, maybe, find something new to like about it. Not too many movies do that anymore.

I don't just mean there are fewer movies -- such as "Hard Day's Night" -- shot in black and white, or ones that dare to tell stories in the same off-the-cuff narrative line. But you're less likely to find one now that takes chances with its material, veers into storytelling anarchy and Just Lets Go.

Opinion: Why The Beatles couldn't happen in today's digital age

"Hard Day's Night" not only knew how to Let Go, it made its audiences do it, too. In his liner notes to the new Criterion disc, critic-historian Howard Hampton uses the expression "euphoric blur" to characterize the movie and the way it was made.

Director Richard Lester, whose experience up till that point included TV sketch comedies for such antic British comics as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, applied such a loose, intimate and baggy texture to this mythical day-in-the-life-of-the-Beatles that those who first beheld it believed it to be almost a documentary.

The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists.
Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others. The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists. Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others.
Beatles myths and misconceptions
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
Beatles myths and misconceptions Beatles myths and misconceptions

It wasn't, except for some of the answers John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr deliver in the press-conference set piece. By the time the movie was filmed in the spring of 1964, they'd answered those kinds of questions hundreds of times on two continents. (INTERVIEWER: "How did you find America?" JOHN: "Turned left at Greenland.")

Summer rewind: Looking back at 1964

That was the other liberating, intoxicating aspect of "Hard Day's Night" -- its attitude. It refused to take anything, not even its subjects' galvanic success, seriously. When rock-and-rollers such as Elvis Presley did movies, they seemed so awkwardly sincere that you wondered if they'd misplaced the energy that made them famous in the first place.

Under Lester's "guidance," the Beatles showed the same brash insouciance in on-screen that they displayed in performance. (John snorting through an empty Coke bottle, Ringo deadpanning under a hair dryer while reading a magazine as the manager, Norman Rossington fumes, "What are you up to?" Says Ringo: "Page five.")

John Lennon sketches going to auction
The Beatles: The club that started it all

All this sent me to the moon and back when I was 11, and I was allowed to see "Hard Day's Night" during its opening weekend in America. This would have been early August, a month after the movie's July 6 London premiere.

It was a Saturday evening, and my parents, along with others, black and white alike, in the Hartford housing project where I grew up, actually agreed to drive a bunch of their kids to a downtown movie house, to see, unaccompanied, what the shouting was about.

How Ed Sullivan met The Beatles

At that point, I wasn't as committed to the Beatles as my sister and her friends were even before the movie started. But after it was over, all of us were so wired by what we'd seen that we wanted to run, goof and joke around all night long, even after two cars scooped us up to take us home. It was as if the movie -- and the Beatles themselves -- had given me permission to be as wise, foolish, daring, smart and alert to the world as I wanted to be. And I couldn't wait to see it again just to make sure I hadn't imagined it.

Watch 'The Sixties'

Screaming fans, funny accents, and amazing music: nothing would be the same after the Beatles and other British musicians came on the U.S. scene in the 1960s. Go inside "The British Invasion" on this week's episode of "The Sixties," Thursday night at 9 p.m. on CNN.

It would be years before I had that chance. When I did, I felt just as empowered and exhilarated by that movie in my 20s as I did on that long-ago twilight. When my own son saw it for the first time, at age 6, he was just as hyped as I'd been.

The gift that "Hard Day's Night" keeps giving is the right of all who see it to say to themselves, "Take the world as it comes and when you break from its moorings, don't be afraid to be as silly or as soulful as you're able. And whatever you do, make sure you bring other people along."

Maybe I'm still dreaming all this. But I'm awake enough to know one thing: No new movie that came out this year can make so many audiences feel as buoyant or as alive as this movie did -- and does. It's possible that both "A Hard Day's Night" and, for that matter, the Beatles themselves were miracles that could never be duplicated. But can't the movies at least try to imagine that such things are possible?

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT